[40] Rather than granting property rights to the inventor as is the practice in the United States and many other countries, some countries grant property rights to the applicant, which may be a corporation or other organization.

[41] U.S. patent law states that any person who "invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent." The law defines "nonobvious" as "sufficiently different from what has been used or described before [so] that it may be said to be nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention." These terms are part of the criteria in U.S. patent law. For more information, see USPTO, "What is a patent?" at
index.html#patent, accessed 28 June 2007.

[42] Although the USPTO grants several types of patents, this discussion is limited to utility patents, commonly known as patents for inventions. They include any new, useful, or improved-on method, process, machine, device, manufactured item, or chemical compound.

[43] The Japan Patent Office (JPO) is also a major patent office but has much smaller share of foreign patents compared with the USPTO and EPO.

[44] USPTO reports that average time to process an application (pendancy) was 31.1 months for utility, plant, and reissue patent applications in FY 2006, compared with 18.3 months in FY 2003. Applications for utility patents account for the overwhelming majority of these requests. The EPO reports that the average pendancy was 45.3 months in 2005.

[45] Unless otherwise noted, USPTO patents are assigned to countries on the basis of the residence of the first-named inventor.

[46] U.S. patenting data on type of ownership and by state is available only for U.S. patents granted.

[47] Some of the decline in U.S. patenting by inventors from the EU and other leading industrialized nations may be because of movement toward European unification, which has encouraged wider patenting within Europe.

[48] EPO patents are assigned to countries on a fractional-count basis. For patents with inventors from different countries, each country receives credit on basis of proportion of its participating inventors.

[49] The data source for EPO and USPTO patents is the OECD. USPTO data drawn from the OECD database are not directly comparable with data reported by the USPTO because of methodological differences and consequent OECD adjustments.

[50] A seminal court decision opening the floodgate for biotechnology-related patents is the 1980 Supreme Court decision Diamond v. Chakrabarty, which ruled that genetically engineered living organisms can be patented.

[51] The EU issued a directive that harmonized the laws of member states on biotechnology patenting, which may explain the lag and subsequent growth of EU biotechnology patents compared with the United States.

[52] The database is housed at the OECD and produced as a collaborative project among the OECD, the National Science Foundation, the EU, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the USPTO, the JPO, and the EPO. Until March 2001, only patents granted in the United States were published in the database. Technically, the dataset counts those inventions for which patent protection is sought in Europe and Japan and obtained in the United States.

[53] Triadic patent families with coinventors residing in different countries are assigned to their respective countries on a fractional count basis. Patents are listed by priority year, which is the year of the first patent filing. Data for 1998–2003 are estimated by the OECD.